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Childproofing A Hidden Menace, The Spray Bottle

The most common source of children’s exposure to household chemicals is from spray bottles, but a new design should keep the little tykes from getting a mouthful of Windex.

Most adults don’t give a second thought to the safety of spray bottles, but for kids they can be one of the most dangerous household items. The problem? They’re just too good at dispensing cleaners and garden products, some of which are toxic.

A 2010 study published in the journal Pediatrics showed that spray bottles were the most common source of exposure to injury in an estimated 267,269 children 5 years of age or younger treated in U.S. emergency departments for household cleaning product-related injuries between 1990 and 2006. These spray bottles are the largest dispensing system type by volume in North America, and they’re commonly used for household cleaning and garden products.

Household cleaners can cause injuries ranging from poisoning to chemical burns and dermatitis. When a spray bottle was involved in a child’s injuries, the child was 18 times more likely to have external contact with the chemical (rather than ingestion or inhalation), and 13 times more likely to have eye injuries than other types of injuries, the study found.

Now, researchers at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus Ohio have created a prototype for child-resistant spray bottles for household cleaning products that still allow adults to use them, but prevent kids from accidentally dispensing chemicals.

In a pilot study including 25 families of young children, the researchers found that 75% of the nozzles on the cleaning product spray bottles were not in the "closed" or "off" position, which they say is the only way to keep current bottles closed to little prying fingers.

The new bottle has a two-stage trigger mechanism—see it above, it looks like a lighter—design restricts the ability of young children to trigger spray bottles because they lack the development capability to perform the correct operational sequence and because their hand size and strength are not sufficient to activate the mechanism (suckers), meaning that kids under the age of 6 wouldn’t be able to use them. After each spray, the mechanism automatically returns to a locked state without requiring the user to explicitly lock it.

The team is now looking to patent their design and commercialize the product. Lara McKenzie, the lead researcher, says that the technology has the potential to prevent more than 6,000 injuries each year—which works out to 18 injuries per day.